For trust to develop and flourish in any relationship, it needs to have a foundation of honesty and transparency between the two parties. This is certainly the case when it comes to the doctor/patient relationship.
Kenneth Pettine, a decorated spine and specialist surgeon who founded the Rocky Mountain Associates in Orthopedic Medicine and the Society for Ambulatory Spine Surgery, says that transparency and honesty is vital for building trusting partnerships between doctors and their patients and ensuring the best health outcomes.
A lack of trust may lead patients to withhold information from their doctor out of embarrassment or concern. And if a doctor doesn’t have the most accurate and forthcoming information available regarding a patient’s condition, symptoms, or other important factors, it can severely impair their ability to make proper judgements and diagnoses.
Likewise, Kenneth Pettine says that doctors may withhold information from their patients due to a lack of trust or comfort with the relationship, particularly if they believe the patient won’t make the right decision if given that knowledge.
Needless to say, if a patient is not given the full lay of the land regarding their condition and what the possible treatment options might be, they are not put in the best position to make a sound judgement regarding their own health. And should they eventually uncover that information was withheld from them, whatever trust existed in that relationship will evaporate.
Doctor/Patient Relationship Evolving in Digital Age
With health information now readily available at anyone’s fingertips, the relationship between doctors and patients is undergoing a new transformation.
No longer are doctors the only member of the relationship with medical knowledge. Now, studies suggest that more than half of patients actively research their conditions before reaching out to a doctor. Kenneth Pettine believes this provides doctors with a great opportunity to engage their patients like they couldn’t previously, sharing knowledge and building trust through that open exchange of ideas.
Not every doctor will relish the idea of having their knowledge or authority questioned by a patient that read an online medical blog with competing information. However, it’s more important than ever that they don’t just brush aside or dismiss those ideas without engaging them, as doing so could cause patients to lose faith in their doctor’s judgement and question the amount of autonomy they have over their own medical destiny. Instead, doctors will have to be on top of their games and ready to present sound counterpoints to any claims made by patients with which they don’t agree.
By the same token, Kenneth Pettine urges doctors to maintain an open mind. It’s impossible for any doctor to stay updated on all of the latest findings across the wide range of conditions they might encounter. What’s important is that they are always striving to provide the highest level of care.
By being honest with themselves about their own limitations, doctors will be in the best frame of mind to have an open and honest relationship with their patients that is built around trust and transparency rather than authority.